Wednesday 19 March 2014

The Festival of Sant'Efisio in Sardinia

The Festival of Sant'Efisio in Pula
The festival of Sant'Efisio, celebrated in early May every year is one of the most important dates in the Sardinian calendar. Visitors to the island have long loved the excuse to photograph the locals dressed in the stunning traditional costumes, hear Sardinian folk music and marvel at the bright colors, flower-strewn streets and festive atmosphere, but few really understand the origins of the festival.

Traditional dress at the Sagra di Sant'Efisio
 Sant'Efisio is the patron saint of Sardinia. Born during the 3rd century AD in Asia Minor to a pagan mother and Christian father, he was enrolled in the Roman army to fight Christians under Dioclesian. During the long journey to Europe however, he underwent an epiphany and converted to Christianity himself. According to the legend, one night he was visited by a vision of a shining cross appearing amongst the clouds accompanied by a voice warning him not to join in the persecution of Christians.

On revealing his conversion to Dioclesian, he was accused of being a traitor to the Roman empire and subsequently imprisoned, tortured and finally martyred on the beach at Nora on the 15th of January 303AD.

A church was built in his honor in the eleventh century, and still stands to this day. It's a stunning location, right on the beach at Nora, and legend claims that it is on the exact spot on which Efisio was decapitated. In Cagliari, Sardinia's capital city, there are both a church and a crypt bearing his name. According to legend, the crypt is where Efisio was imprisoned before being transported to Nora to be put to death. It's open to the public now, and guides will point out the column to which he was supposedly shackled. There's evidence that the site has been used for worship since the 5th century, although recent history has seen it used as both an air-raid shelter and rubbish dump.

Horsemen escorting the saint's image to Nora
The Chiesa di Sant'Efisio in Cagliari was built in the 18th century and is home to the statue of his likeness. Visitors will notice the cannonballs embedded in the back wall, a legacy from the French attack on Cagliari in 1793. The Sardinians were said to have had some help from the saint himself in winning that particular battle.
In 1655, Sant'Efisio was said to have saved Cagliari from a particularly violent outbreak of the plague, which lead to the decision to honor him by giving him his own festival (the Sagra di Sant'Efisio) every May.

Sardinians of all ages take part
On the 1st of May, his statue is dressed in all his finery and loaded onto a golden carriage, pulled by bulls. He is then taken on the long pilgrimage from Cagliari to Nora, escorted by horsemen, locals in vibrant traditional costumes, musicians and pilgrims (some barefoot). The procession arrives in Pula on the 2nd of May, and moves onto Nora that afternoon. The long return journey begins on the 4th of May, and the saint and his escorts will have traveled a total of 80km by the time he is safely returned to his church in the city.

Although the festival has been celebrated in Sardinia for hundreds of years, Sant'Efisio's remains have, until recently been kept in Pisa. The 12th of May 2011 finally saw their return to Cagliari
If you would like to view this year's processions for yourself, there's still plenty of time to book one of our self-catering villas in the Pula or Cagliari area for a front-row view of this fascinating insight into Sardinian culture

Or you can visit our Facebook page for a whole album of photographs of the Sant'Efisio festival

Wednesday 12 March 2014

The Murals of Orgosolo

The murals of Orgosolo, Sardinia
Right in the middle of Sardinia, in the wild, mountainous area of Barbagia, historically known for bandits, kidnapping and blood feuds and still mostly undiscovered by foreign tourists is a hidden gem.

Hundreds of beautifully painted murals adorn just about every building in the town of Orgosolo, but these aren't just scribblings or random graffiti. These are expressions of social discontent, images of local life and traditions and messages of peace, equality and freedom.

Art, graffiti or politics?
The mural culture in Orgosolo, a town of just 5,000 inhabitants began during the Italian recession of the late 1960's, a time of strikes, inflation, unemployment and social unrest. The first was painted in 1969 by Dionisio, a visiting Milanese theatre troupe. They wanted to publicly question Sardinia's role in Italian politics and culture. A local teacher, Francesco del Casino liked the idea so much that he then encouraged his students to contribute their "two cents" and express themselves through murals, as a way of making them more interested in the problems of unemployment, illiteracy and freedom from oppression. The phenomenon has snowballed from there, with more experienced artists taking it upon themselves to adorn the town's walls with increasingly intricate, colourful and meaningful artworks.
Sardinia's mural culture
Although originally the murals portrayed only local issues, the themes now include more international themes and cover everything from the troubles in the Middle East to Tiananmen Square, 9/11 to women's rights. When you consider just how isolated from the outside world the town was until recently, its incredible to see such an assortment of international issues.

Thankfully, now that the paintings have become known abroad, they have been elevated from mere graffiti to cultural heritage status, with the Sardinian government allocating funds in 2000 for their preservation and restoration. There are many mural workshops run locally as well, promising to keep the Orgosolo mural tradition alive for generations to come.

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The murals are well worth a visit, and a day trip from your base at any one of our Sardinian villas is well worth while

And if you would like to see more of the murals online, why not pop over to our Facebook page where you'll find an entire album of pictures

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Villa of the Month - Villa Volpe, Porto Rotondo

Villa Volpe in Porto Rotondo

A prerequisite for any property in our Sardinia villa collection is that it has to be somewhere we ourselves would like to stay with our own family and friends... but we can't help but have our favourites. Those villas you dream about, that come to mind first when you imagine your dream holiday. Villa Volpe ticks all of our boxes for the perfect Sardinia retreat.

The vital ingredient for any holiday in Sardinia has to be the sparkling blue Mediterranean sea and you couldn't get any closer to it than at Villa Volpe. Built on the tip of a small peninsula in Porto Rotondo, the villa's unique selling point is the direct sea access from all sides. The sandy beach at Punta Volpe can be accessed through a rustic wooden gate from the villa grounds, and there's even a sandy stretch inside the gate with sun loungers, a changing room and an alfresco shower so you have your own private piece of Mediterranean beach.

The stunning salt water infinity swimming pool is a new addition for the 2014 season and is the perfect place to relax, enjoy the view over the sea and check out the luxury yachts as they glide by.

Another new addition for summer 2014 is the luxury guesthouse poolside, again with views over the pool to the sea, a living area with fireplace, a double bedroom with French doors to the pool area and a luxury bathroom. There are five other bedroom suites spread over the main villa and a further two guesthouses so there's plenty of space for your nearest and dearest.

The villa was designed by the godfather of Sardinian architecture, Savin Couelle and you can see his love of natural local building materials in the stones and wood beams. The main living area boasts vaulted ceilings and huge windows from which to admire the sea views and even houses a unique indoor wood burning pizza oven.

Maid service is included in the cost of the villa as is our complimentary concierge service, and you can view the full details of Villa Volpe at the link below

Monday 3 March 2014

Mamuthones in Mamoiada

A Mamuthone at the Mamoiada carnival
Carnival is celebrated all over Sardinia, and each region celebrates it differently. By far the most authentically Sardinian carnival is the one held in the small town of Mamoiada in the Sardinian province of Nuoro.

The Mamoiada carnival is famous for its "Mamuthones" and "Issohadores". The Mamuthones are intimidating looking characters; locals dress in wooden masks, black sheepskins and cow bells for the transformation from man to beast. They never speak, but as they parade through the streets they perform a slow stomping dance which makes the bells the wear on their backs ring. The "Issohadores" are lighter, more frivolous characters dressed in red, white and black who dance through the streets and lasso the prettiest local women. Historically, they would also capture the local landowners who would then invite the whole group into their home and provide them with food and wine.
Unlike the carnival festivities in Bosa which are characterised by wild street parties, the carnival in Mamoiada is a more serious, ritualised affair rooted strongly in local traditions.

Micro Issohadores in Mamoiada
We were lucky enough to find the youngest of only seven local residents who still hand carve the traditional Mamuthone masks; he's passionate about his town and his traditions and was happy to spend time explaining the ceremony to us. It seems that the true origins are lost in the mists of time, something that is sadly not unusual for a small town where stories have been passed down orally and only written down relatively recently.

One school of thought has the Mamuthones representing the shepherds of Barbagia (the mountains of Sardinia) and the Issohadores as the Saracen invaders who tried and failed to conquer the area. Others say it's a rite designed to ward off evil spirits and ensure good harvests, and there are those who say the Mamuthones represent bulls and the Issohadores are there to tame and domesticate them. It's also been said that the Mamuthones in their heavy sheepskins represent the winter giving way to the lighter, more cheerful springtime. One thing everybody does seem to agree on however is that the traditions of Mamuthones and Issohadores is an ancient one, dating back hundreds and maybe even thousands of years.

Until as late as the 1990's, the Mamuthone tradition was a purely local event, unknown to outsiders and the event has changed somewhat over the last 20 years due to tourists flocking to the tiny town both from other areas of Sardinia and abroad to witness it first hand. It's still an amazing insight into the culture, history and traditions of the region and very worth a visit.

If this has inspired you to visit Sardinia for yourself, check out our collection of luxury self-catering villas on the island

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Fun Facts About Sardinia

We think Sardinia is one of the most fascinating places on Earth with a rich culture and history.

Just for fun, here are a few interesting facts about the island of Sardinia that we just love. We hope you like them too... they'll come in handy for impressing fellow holidaymakers over dinner!

Sardinia's coastline (1,850km) makes up over a quarter of the entire Italian coast

Sardinia enjoys an average of 135 days of sunshine every year

Geologically speaking, Sardinia is one of the most ancient bodies of land in Europe being 500 million years old

A growing number of scholars believe that Sardinia is actually the site of the Lost City of Atlantis.

Sardinia may be small, but it has it's own language which varies drastically from one area to the next. The Sard language is based on Latin but still bears the influence of the ancient languages of the Nuraghic period (such as the word Nuraghe itself) as well as smatterings of Catalan, Corsican, Arabic, Phonecian and Genoese... legacies left by the island's many invaders.

When Ringo Starr visited Sardinia in 1968 on Peter Sellers' boat, he was served octopus for lunch by the captain. The resulting conversation between the two men was the inspiration behind The Beatles song "Octopus's Garden"

The English phrase "Sardonic grin" comes from the effect of a toxic local herb which causes convulsive laughter in its victims.

Sardinia's inhabitants have the highest percentage of people over the age of 100 in the world (22 centenarians per 100,000 inhabitants)... maybe down to the fantastic diet and unpolluted air? It's no coincidence that the traditional Sardinian greeting is "A kent'annos" (may you live to 100).

The tiny island of Asinara off the coast of Sardinia is home to a colony of 250 miniature albino donkeys and, according to the 2001 census, just one man. The island of Tavolara is also worth a mention as being officially a kingdom... The current monarch actually owns a restaurant on the island but proudly bears the regal title given to his ancestors in 1848

Sardinia is the Mediterranean's second largest island after Sicily. It's also the third biggest region in Italy (after Sicily and Piedmont) but due to the fact that the interior of the island is mainly uninhabited, it ranks only 11th according to population size.

About 10 million tourists visit the island every year.

25% of Sardinia (600,000 hectares) has been designated as national parkland or wildlife reserves.

Sardinia's original name (dating from 1500BC) was Ichnusa. This comes from combining the word "island" ("nusa") with "Hyskos" after the tribe who rose to power in the 17th century BC and ruled areas of Egypt before invading Sardinia.

Sardinia has over 7,000 prehistoric archaeological sites dating from before 1,000BC.

A culinary speciality unique to Sardinia is "casu marzu" cheese which contains live maggots... and yes, you guessed it, it's considered a potent aphrodisiac by the locals.

Sardinia is the only region of Italy which doesn't have a motorway; an indication as to the pace of life here perhaps?

The world-famous internet company, Tiscali was founded in Sardinia and is still based in Cagliari. The company is named after a 2,000 year old nuraghic village on the island.

Yes, the word "sardines" does come from Sardinia, although sadly stocks of the fish have been depleted by overfishing.

If you have any other fascinating facts about Sardinia, we'd love to hear them! If this has inspired you to find out more about the island, just contact us for luxury Sardinian holiday villas.

February Sunshine in Sardinia

When people think of Sardinia, they tend to think of the summer holidays, but it really is an all year round destination.

Cala Giunco beach in Villasimius
Right now, the temperature is steady at around 25 degrees centigrade and has been for weeks. The sky is bright, bright blue, the spring flowers and blossom are out and we think the island is at it's very best between now and May.

We spent the weekend out in the Villasimius and Costa Rei area, wandering along miles of sandy white beaches without a single footprint on them, photographing flamingos and searching for the wild asparagus which is in season right now. The best way to get to know the island is just to hop in the car and drive... turn down any interesting track that you like the look of and you'll always be pleasantly surprised. We found a friendly shepherd who allowed us to wander over his land (it's always polite to ask permission) and who told us where to find a nuraghe (prehistoric stone monument) and the remains of a prehistoric settlement hidden in the bushes. He'd built a wall and a beautiful wooden entrance gate around them, and we loved seeing the gate to nowhere right in the middle of the countryside.

The gateway in the middle of the field, guarding the hidden remains of a prehistoric settlement
The friendly shepherd and his sheep

The wild asparagus we picked on our day out. Absolutely delicious!
If this has inspired you to get to know the area yourself check out two of our favourite villas in the area.

Villa Shardana in the Costa Rei, sleeps 4

Villa Arrubia in Villasimius, sleeps 14

Thursday 15 March 2012

Villa of the Month - Villa Orchidea

Although most of Sardinia is very laid back and relaxed holiday destination, the Costa Smeralda and especially Porto Cervo are famous the world over for being attracting the rich and famous. Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg, Richard Gere, Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Paris Hilton and just about every footballer you care to think are just a few of those who spent their summer holidays here last year.

So if you're really looking for a taste of the Sardinian high life, Villa Orchidea is the property for you. We do try not to have favorites, but this villa has it all; breathtaking views, opulent furnishings, gorgeous gardens and total privacy, all within a stones-throw of the boutiques and nightlife of Porto Cervo.

Set between Cala di Volpe and the famous Pevero golf course, the location just doesn't get any better than this; you're right in the heart of one of the Mediterranean's most exclusive spots. Chill out by the pool and enjoy the views over the countryside to the blue, blue Mediterranean sea. The gorgeous Hotel Cala di Volpe (one of the most expensive in the world), designed by the godfather of Sardinian architecture, Couelle, is far below you and completes the unique views.

Inside, the décor is divine; quirky ornaments, colorful coffee-table books and world globes adorn every corner of the villa and the overall feel is of effortless elegance. Each of the four bedroom suites are individually and tastefully decorated, whilst the living and dining areas are the essence of taste and charm.

The interiors and exteriors of the property blend seamlessly into each other thanks to the full-length glass doors in almost every room. The mature gardens are immaculately maintained and full of exotic plants such as bougainvillea, bamboo, Bird of Paradise, banana trees and olives. Due to the privileged hillside location, Villa Orchidea is a secluded property and guests will find the tranquil location totally relaxing.

As well as the private swimming pool, guests can relax on the rooftop solarium; the perfect place to enjoy sunset aperitivi whilst lounging in the jacuzzi. The covered outdoor living and dining area is furnished with comfy white sofas so you can chill out while dinner sizzles away on the huge barbeque.

To find out more about Villa Orchidea, click here

Or to contact us and start making your holiday dreams a reality, just click on this link; we're looking forward to hearing from you!